The 5 E’s of Inquiry-Based Learning

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an 18.7 percent growth in employment in science and engineering occupations between 2010 and 2020, compared to 14.3 percent for all occupations (NSF 2019). Due to the need for STEM-skilled workers, the U.S. government is pushing initiatives to increase the number of students studying in STEM fields during secondary and post-secondary education (Scott 2012). In 2018, the U.S. Department of Education earmarked $279 million in discretionary grant funds for high-quality STEM education.

Yet, despite the attention being placed on STEM education, schools are faced with limited instructional time and a lack of resources for teaching STEM subjects. Enter the school librarian! The school librarian is an expert in curating resources, designing inquiry-based instruction, and demonstrating technology tools for communicating learning.

School librarians are charged by AASL Standards Framework for Learners to engage students in the inquiry process where they formulate questions, conduct investigations, apply information and media to learning, and generate products that illustrate learning. STEM instruction and inquiry-based learning go hand in hand. Research suggests that inquiry-based science instruction enhances students’ understanding of concepts in science and increases students’ interest in the field (Hoftsein and Mamlok-Naaman 2007). Inquiry-based learning experiences help students develop critical thinking skills and give them a sense of accomplishment.

Not sure how to engage students in scientific inquiry? Not a problem. The 5E Inquiry-Based Instructional Model can serve as your guide during the design and implementation of STEM instruction.

The 5E Inquiry-Based Instructional Model is based upon cognitive psychology, constructivist theory to learning, and best practices in STEM instruction (Bybee and Landes 1990). The 5E learning cycle leads students through five phases: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. The 5E Instructional Model brings coherence to different teaching strategies, provides connections among educational activities, and helps science teachers make decisions about interactions with students (BSCS 2019). Compared to traditional teaching models, the 5E learning cycle results in greater benefits concerning students’ ability for scientific inquiry (Bybee 2009).

In this first phase of the 5E Learning Cycle, the teacher gauges student prior knowledge and/or identifies possible misconceptions (Duran and Duran 2004). This student-centered phase should create a desire to learn more about the forthcoming topic. According to Duran and Duran (2004), the engagement phase is not intended for the teacher to lecture, define terms, or provide explanations.

The exploration phase provides students with a common base of hands-on activities. These activities will help students use prior knowledge to inquire, generate new ideas, and conduct a preliminary investigation (Bybee 2009). This phase of the learning cycle usually incorporates the main inquiry-based experience, which nurtures students’ understanding (Duran and Duran 2004).

The third stage in the instructional model is more teacher-directed and guided by the students’ experience in the previous phase (Duran and Duran 2004). Students explain their understanding of concepts and the teacher corrects students’ misconceptions (Bybee 2009). During this phase the teacher may provide formal definitions, notes, and labels (Duran and Duran 2004).

In the elaboration phase students are encouraged to apply their new understanding of concepts, while reinforcing new skills (Duran and Duran, 2004). According to Duran and Duran (2004), “Students may conduct additional investigations, develop products, share information and ideas, or apply their knowledge and skills to other disciplines” (p. 53). This stage in the learning cycle presents opportunities for the teacher to integrate science with other content areas (Duran and Duran 2004).

According to Bybee (2009), “The evaluation phase encourages students to assess their understanding and abilities and provides opportunities for teachers to evaluate student progress toward achieving the educational objectives” (p. 5). Formative and summative assessment are appropriate in this phase. Duran and Duran (2004) provides a list of non-traditional forms of assessment that are appropriate for evaluating students’ understanding and performance: portfolios, performance-based assessment, concept maps, physical models, and journal logs.

According to Williams (2019):

A focus on content at the expense of process in STEM education (and all education, really) will inhibit student learning, because the important learning occurs through the activities of the process. When the learning of content is necessary so it can be applied, through an activity to a situation, such content is perceived as relevant and so will be learnt more effectively and efficiently. (p. 3)

The 5E Instructional Model serves as a flexible learning cycle that assists curriculum developers, classroom teachers, and school librarians with the creation of STEM lessons that illustrate constructivist, reform-based, best teaching practices.

Learn more about the 5E Instructional Model at

Works Cited

BSCS Science Learning. 2019. “BSCS 5E Instructional Model.” Retrieved from

Bybee, R. W., and Landes, N. M. 1990. “Science for Life & Living: An Elementary School Science Program from Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.” The American Biology Teacher 52(2): 92-98.

Bybee, R. W. 2009. The BSCS 5E Instructional Model and 21st Century Skills. Colorado Springs, CO: BSCS.

Chitman-Booker, L., and Kopp, K. 2013. The 5Es of Inquiry-Based Science. Teacher Created Materials.

Duran, L. B., and Duran, E. 2004. “The 5E Instructional Model: A Learning Cycle Approach for Inquiry-Based Science Teaching.” Science Education Review 3(2): 49-58.

Hofstein, A., and Mamlok-Naaman, R. 2007. “The Laboratory in Science Education: The State of the Art.” Chemistry Education Research and Practice 8(2): 105-107.

National Science Foundation. 2019. “What Does the S&E Job Market Look Like for U.S. Graduates?” Retrieved from

Scott, C. 2012. “An Investigation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Focused High Schools in the U.S.” Journal of STEM Education: Innovations & Research 13(5): 30–39.

Williams, P. 2019. “The Principles of Teaching and Learning in STEM Education.” AIP Conference Proceedings 2081(1).


Author: Sam Northern, Ed.D.

Sam Northern is a National Board Certified Teacher-Librarian at Simpson Elementary School in Franklin, Kentucky. He currently serves as President of the Kentucky Association of School Librarians. In 2014, Sam was selected for the Fulbright-Hays Summer Seminars Abroad Program where he spent four weeks in China. Since then, Sam has voyaged to Antarctica as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow and worked aboard a research vessel on the Atlantic Ocean as a NOAA Teacher at Sea. From January to April 2018, Sam traveled to Finland as part of the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program to research best practices for project-based learning. Connect with him on Twitter @Sam_Northern and Facebook @themisterlibrarian.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Makerspaces/Learning Commons, STEM/STEAM, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models, Technology

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10 replies

  1. This was a great article. I think this approach is the most effective for students to really learn and retain materials! We try to incorporate this in the AMPHI school district!

  2. Awesome post, Sam. These are really good strategy to increase the learning between students. I also want to apply for the same at OGDEN. Please helps us to increase awareness about the CORONA Virus.

  3. Really really good article and approach. Keen to apply this, love the progression throughout.

  4. Thank you! very informative and its a very good article

  5. Thanks for such an informative and detailed thesis.

  6. Thank you for sharing!

  7. This was a great article to outline the 5 E’s

  8. Super article and example of higher order questioning.

  9. This article increase our awareness as teacher for the students to be well engaged within and out of the class.

  10. Thanks for sharing this information.

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